- Next trainer development cohort 10th - 14th June 2024

Obama’s Quick & Brilliant Writing Tip

3rd December, 2020

Obama’s Quick & Brilliant Writing Tip

The fact that we’re on our knees crawling towards the end of a tough, tough year probably doesn’t help.


Bodies are tired and brains are fried.


But putting our ideas into words is often a challenge.


In the last few weeks I’ve had even more conversations than usual with clients like this:


“We have all these great thoughts, but we just can’t get them down on paper.”

“No-one internally understands what our team does or the value we bring. When we try to explain it, people don’t listen.”

“We change how we describe our services every time we talk to a client. No-one gets what we do.”

“We struggle with our ‘elevator pitch’. We can’t get our point across in less than a thousand words (and by then everyone’s fallen asleep).”

“When I try to describe what I do it just doesn’t feel like me. But I’m not even sure what ‘me’ is.”


From banks and tech companies, to lawyers and coaches, I’ve heard it all.


And it’s not surprising. It’s hard at the best of times to sum up our message in a way that sticks. But right now? It feels impossible.


I call it ‘porridge brain’.


Luckily nailing messaging is a challenge I love. (More than Leonidas pralines. Which is saying something).


I love to grab clients by their ankles, tip them upside down and shake everything out of their pockets (not literally).


And I love to sort through the debris – some of it fluff, some rubbish to be thrown away, but also some shiny objects of real value.


And those are the nuggets that we grab with both hands to form the start of their messaging.


It’s a specialised, creative process I’ve honed over the years (and love sharing with clients). It’s about asking the right questions, and coming at the problem from lots of different angles.


But if there’s one simple tip I can share, it would be this. And Barack Obama describes it so elegantly in his new autobiography:


“I like writing things out long hand. I find that a computer gives even my roughest drafts too smooth a gloss and lends half-baked thoughts the mask of tidiness.”


(Doesn’t he write like a dream? His book is top of my Christmas list, alongside sweatpants and vaccines for all.)


So if you’re struggling with a whirlwind of thoughts or wrestling with words, step away from the computer and pick up a pen. It’s a great place to start – and where I always begin.

University of Cambridge


- Next trainer development cohort 10th - 14th June 2024

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